Wouldn’t it be wonderful if any of time management applications and webinars actually led to an increase in productivity? The bottom line is no one can manage time; it’s simply beyond our control. But what you can do is better manage yourself, your focus and your productivity when events or priorities change. And who doesn’t get sidetracked as a freelancer?
Here we discuss a few of the time management myths and misconceptions that may have held you back from performing at the top of your game. But just like an athlete, it takes a little practice. If you make a concerted effort using even one of the tips below, it can make a difference in your day. As they say, "You’ll always have more money, but you won’t always have more time."
1. Let External Events Control your Day
When you make every external event a priority, you’re giving up control. If you wish to make every interruption the center of your day, you’ll get little done. So what can you do? First realize what you can and cannot control. You can’t control a car accident that’s one mile ahead, and makes you late for a face-to-face with a client. But you can anticipate the future by understanding external demands and how you can react to them. In other words, build in time for the unexpected. For instance, in traffic jams, carry a cell phone and contact your client as soon as possible about the delay. Want to be even more proactive? Ask your client if the delay will inconvenience them and if they would like to reschedule. Unexpected trip to the dentist? While waiting take what you can do on the road with you. Catch up on client email or reorganize your to-do list. In other words, it may have been unexpected, but you can still utilize the time to your best ability. You can’t do much to prevent traffic or a chipped crown, but you can mitigate its results.
2. Do Not Dictate Limits
We hear a lot about “work-life balance.” In fact, numerous blogs have been written about how to say the magic word “no” when it comes to using time to its best advantage. There are a myriad of reasons why you may feel compelled to say yes to every client or project, even when you know it may not be in your best interest or your client’s best interest. Understanding your motivation behind the constant need to please is half the battle. The other half is changing your behavior. It’s not just what you say, but “how” you say it that results in more productivity and more time. Bottom line: when you respect or value your time, so will your clients.
3. Everything is a Priority
As an independent consultant, there will be days you’ll feel tempted to treat every inquiry and every set back as an immediate priority. Here is where taking a bit of time to plan and organize can go a long way. If tools work, then use them. Whether it’s an online calendar or a simple to-do list use what keeps you effective. More importantly take the time to evaluate your goals and then set a realistic time to each one. The key here is the word realistic. Taking a cue from item #1, build in time for interruptions, reviews or even research for any one project.
4. Over-Scheduling Helps you Keep on Top of Things
Whether its Evernote or Outlook with Calendar or an excel spreadsheet that handles the management of freelance projects, don’t spend so much time planning that there is little room for the work itself. Leave a little wiggle room for flexibility in your to-do lists or your goal lists for possible revision. Prioritizing tasks or goals over and over again should be a given, and is something you’ll find yourself doing throughout your day.
5. Commit to Every Task Yourself
It sounds super heroic to take on every task, no matter how mundane, yourself. While for others, it’s simply too difficult to let go. I hate to quote from an episode of Seinfeld, but to effectively remain master of your domain; you must learn the fine art of delegation which can take you further than going it alone. Whenever necessary eliminate processes that see little to no results, or outsource tasks to others. Delegation gives you freedom. Most of all, it gives you time to grow your business and do what you’ve originally set out to do in the first place; be the boss.
6. Achieve Perfection Wherever and Whenever Possible
When you hang on to ideas of perfectionism, you quickly lose focus of the big picture. This may require a little rewiring in the way you think about everyday tasks. For example, consider labeling all documents or forms as a draft. Why? Because change is inevitable. By looking at documents you use every day in a slightly different way, you can reduce the pressure to produce a piece of perfection each time it comes up for revision.
7. Complete Each Task No Matter How Long it Takes
This myth also coincides with the misconception of not scheduling time to mundane tasks. But when you restrict the amount of time you give to your inbox, say 1 hour each day, it frees you to move on to another task or the next task on your list once the hour is over. For tasks that take longer than 4 to 5 hours, consider breaking them into smaller tasks and put these smaller tasks into the schedule accordingly. It will be much easier and less overwhelming to handle them individually, rather than tackling the entire project all at once.
8. Don’t Bother Sharing Time Saving Tips, Nobody Uses Them
If people around you understand your time management style, the more likely they are to adopt some of it as their own and in the long run make tasks and strategies run more smoothly. You’re also able to carry on your day with fewer distractions.
9. Routines Block Creativity
Actually it’s the exact opposite. Schedule your downtime like you would schedule the rest of your day. If you haven’t done it already, schedule time with your family. Yes, I mean put that family reunion, wedding, baby shower or other family event on the calendar. Downtime prevents burnout, and so does exercise. So, go ahead and schedule it. As with everything else you do as a freelancer, staying motivated and rejuvenated means more focused productivity in the long run.
10. Don't Waste Time Getting Organized
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Set aside a few hours to determine where your time is going, what tasks or time wasters can be eliminated or processes streamlined to increase efficiency. Stopping to document exactly where your time is going, can actually save you time in the long run. A great example is spending the time to develop templates for contracts or other documents you use over and over again, so that you’re not creating them from scratch each time.
11. Save Unpleasant Tasks for Last
Whenever you save the most dreaded task for last, you’ve creatively hit upon a recipe for disaster. No one I know likes or wants to tackle a presentation at 9 PM. So get the difficult or most dreaded tasks out of the way early, and finish your day with the mundane scheduling appointments, editing contracts and other tasks that take little to no time at all. Also if you break a larger task into smaller focused tasks (see #7), you could eventually view this task as something you enjoy or at the very least, see better results.
12. Multi-Task Whenever Possible
This little gem of advice goes back to the dawn of time. Some tasks, like that client presentation I mentioned in #11, should be done with complete focus and as little distraction as possible. Just give yourself a block of time. See how fast it all comes together when you’re not taking phone calls, watching the news, answering questions or catching up on emails.